For certain apartment hunters, the thought of signing on the dotted line of a year-long lease and locking yourself in for 12 months can feel daunting and restrictive.
But have you considered short-term leases or even a month-to-month lease? While short-term leases have pitfalls for both renter and landlord, there are a ton of benefits to flexible lease lengths.
Most rental agencies and companies define short-term as six months or less. But it really can be any lease under a year whose length is tailored to fit either your or the property owner's needs. In general, there are really two kinds of short-term leases.
First, there are leases that are simply shorter. Commonly, you will find short-term leases available for three, six, or nine months. But realistically, they can be of nearly any length depending on the situation. This complex in Atlanta, for example, offers a variety of available monthly lease lengths from three to 11 months, in addition to the traditional year-long. At the end of the day, most short-term leases are identical to typical 12-month leases (just shorter), with the same security deposits, renewal options, and requirement to honor the full contract term.
The other kind of short-term agreement is the month-to-month lease, the shortest and most open-ended option. Renting month-to-month doesn’t mean you plan on leaving within a month or two. It’s primarily made for those that honestly have no idea for how long they will need an apartment. When you sign a lease with a firm end or renewal date, you’re legally bound to pay the full term of rent even if you need to move before the lease expires (or pay a penalty to leave early). Month-to-month leases are built from the other side. It is assumed by both parties any month could be the last of occupancy, so the renter must inform the landlord each and every month at an agreed-upon time (usually 30 days’ notice) that they are going to extend another month. Month-to-month leases can be ended with almost no hassle.
If your job contains a lot of extended travel, short-terms might be your best bet. Say, for example, you work for a company that sends its employees to a job site for a protracted stay while a project is brought to completion, you might be served well by a short-term lease. This way, you can have your own space to yourself for three or six months or however long the project is scheduled to complete.
If you work in a transient career such as media or flight attendant or military contractor, not only are short-term leases great for you, but month-to-months are perfect. One hallmark of careers such as these are many employees – especially millennials – have expectations of moving around the country often before settling in. Additionally, when a new job can come to fruition as quickly as two-weeks-notice, a month-to-month lease can be nearly painless to end.
And if you are in need of temporary housing, both planned to be interim or open-ended, short-term leases can solve your problems. For individuals moving to a new town who need a stopgap place to live while they do the legwork of finding long-term housing, a three or six-month lease can be a seamless opportunity. Same goes for people who are waiting for a new home to be built or a closing to happen, a month-to-month lease might be a much better option than living in your in-laws’ basement.
There are many advantages to short-term and month-to-month leases. Primarily, it’s convenience. If your apartment needs to be flexible, your lease agreement can be as well. You aren’t beholden a full contract year, and your lease can be tailored to your timing needs, reducing stress and worry. If you need to exit early, your penalties will be much less. If it turns out you really like your apartment (or neighbors or city), most short-term leases can usually be switched to a long-term lease fairly easily.
One overlooked advantage of a short-term or month-to-month agreement is the furnished apartment. While not all short-term leases are for furnished apartments, the percentage is much higher. If you’re one of those transients or frequent temporary project travelers, lugging couches and beds and televisions around from apartment to apartment can be both frustrating and pricey. Appropriating a short-term lease furnished apartment can save a ton of money (and hassle) of moving trucks and storage units which can offset any higher costs associated with a fugacious lease.
There are all sorts of other short-term agreements, including subletting, corporate housing or even a vacation or seasonal rentals. If short term is what you need, there are a ton of options.
But with the good comes the bad. The most significant downside is that short-term leases are usually more expensive. The shorter the term of your lease, the higher rent you’re more likely to pay. This is to make up for the inconvenience to the property owner of finding a new tenant sooner. And you’re locked into a price for a shorter amount of time which can be raised at renewal time. Additionally, for the month-to-monthers, there’s the consideration that the landlord can terminate the open-ended contract basically any month they wish, possibly leaving you in a lurch.